China is betraying a level of strategic anxiety not yet seen as the impact of trade tariffs looms and its return to its historical power role in Asia seems to have stalled.
On Dec. 20, Chinese Rear Adm. Lou Yuan, while speaking at a military trade conference, announced that what the United States feared most was casualties and that the easiest way to defeat China’s main rival was to sink two American supercarriers, killing over 10,000 sailors in the process. When that has happened, Admiral Lou announced, then “we’ll see how frightened America is.”
Lou’s statements were followed just a few days later by China’s president, Xi Jinping, who threateningly said China “reserves the option of taking all necessary measures” to ensure “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan, a democracy that has governed itself apart from China since 1949.
Xi added that Beijing was willing to “fight the bloody battle against our enemies,” and menacingly predicted: “Reunification is the historical trend and the right path, Taiwan independence is … a dead end.”
This is a stark escalation of language. Taken with other examples of bellicose rhetoric that have increasingly issued from Beijing officials, it is clear that Xi Jinping and his supporters have been badly rattled by the recent events.
China’s leaders assumed after the 2008 global financial crisis that the Communist, centrally controlled economic state’s time had come. It would regain its historic role in the region. It could cast off the cloak of a peaceful rise to assume a hegemonic role in the Asia-Pacific region.
But Xi and his followers have watched their diplomatic, economic and military initiatives come up short, engendering increased resistance from other Indo-Pacific nations rather than the realignment China had expected. Now the Trump administration’s trade tariffs threaten to destabilize the Chinese economy, resulting in a cascade failure of Xi Jinping’s broader strategy and threatening to undermine the legitimacy of the Communist Party, hence the stronger and more strident attacks.
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